HOIT 400: Constructing a National Identity – History, Culture, Art and Society in 19th Century Italy

Instructor: Antonella Valoroso - Ph.D.
Credits: 4
Course/Lab Fee: Course reader fee announced during orientation
Prerequisite: Admission to Honors Course
Cross-Listing: Anthropology & Sociology, Courses with Service Learning Components, History, Honors Courses, Italian Studies-Interdisciplinary

Course Description
The 19th century was fundamental to the formation of a national Italian identity. It was also a century of profound socio-economic changes that both accelerated the process of modernization of the country and produced conflicts which still today are only partially resolved, first among which is the so-called “mezzogiorno” question.


Before Italy became an independent political state, the concept of “patria” lived in the ideas and ideals of thinkers and artists who tried, through cultural debates, philosophical essays and, above all, artistic creations, to educate the future Italian people. Once the process of political unification was completed, the attention of intellectuals turned to the unresolved and growing social problems. Literature and art thus became instruments of analysis of an increasingly complex realty, in which the conflicts between North and South, between city and countryside, and between the actual and the ideal, appeared so large as to rule out any optimistic prediction of a solution to the conflicts.


This course begins by exploring how the culture of the Romantic age re-discovered the “myth” of the country (“patria”) already present in the works of Dante, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Vico and Alfieri. It then turns to examine the creation of a “new” art for a new nation. The readings, in addition to selected passages of the authors cited above, include works of Ugo Foscolo, Alessandro Manzoni, Francesco De Sanctis, Carol Collodi, Ippolito Nievo, Giovanni Verga, Tomasi di Lampedusa, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Luigi Pirandello.


Significant time will also be dedicated to the figurative arts (Hayez and the painting of history, the Scapigliati, and the Macchiaioli), the theater of the great actor (Adelaide Ristori and Tommaso Salvini), and to music, with particular attention paid to the operas of Giuseppe Verdi.


Course Objectives

Acquire a sufficiently complex and nuanced knowledge of 19th century Italian history with the ability to analyze and interpret important historical events, trends and movements
–       Gain an understanding of and appreciation for 19th century Italian literature, theater, music, and fine arts;
–       Improve their critical and analytical skills;
Achieve a deeper understanding of past and present social and political conflicts in Italy.